Weekend Preview: A loaded Saturday slate highlights the weekend

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source: AP
Buddy Hield (AP)

GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 15 Oklahoma vs. No. 16 Washington, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Oklahoma looks like they’re going to be one of the top four teams in the Big 12, a sleeper to win the league. And Washington? They look like they are the third-best team in the Pac-12 right now, sliding in right behind Utah as Arizona’s main challenger in the conference.

But here’s the thing: I’m not anyone really knows just how good these two teams are. The Huskies are the bigger question mark at this point. Nigel Williams-Goss is the real deal, and the nation’s best shot-blocker Robert Upshaw is one of the five most valuable players in the country, but if the Huskies are a borderline NIT team without a guy that plays 18 minutes a game and struggles to hit free throws, just how good are they? And Oklahoma? Their starting five can matchup with anyone, particularly with the way that TaShawn Thomas has played of late and how well Ryan Spangler is shooting. But they don’t have much depth at all.

By 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night, we should have a much better idea about both of these teams.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 12 Ohio State vs. No. 24 North Carolina, Sat. 1:00 p.m.

So what’s going on with North Carolina this season? What about Marcus Paige? Why is he struggling so much, and what is going to happen when he is forced to deal with a defender as good as Shannon Scott is? That should be a major concern for Tar Heels fans heading into Saturday. The good news? North Carolina should be downright abusive to the Buckeye front line.

FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH

  • UCLA vs. No. 1 Kentucky, Sat. 3:30 p.m.: I’m not convinced that UCLA is all that good this season. In fact, I think there’s a chance that they’re an NIT team. They do have some athletes on the wing, but we’ll see how Bryce Alford is able to deal with the Kentucky pressure.
  • Syracuse at No. 7 Villanova, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: A good old-fashioned Big East rivalry game! Syracuse has had some major struggles this season as Jim Boeheim tries to find the right lineups and rotations. Villanova hasn’t had that problem at all.
  • Harvard at No. 6 Virginia, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: This game may end up being played in the 50s, but that doesn’t mean these teams are bad. And as good as Virginia has been this season, Harvard is legit. There’s a reason they’ve won a game is two straight tournaments.
  • Indiana vs. No. 23 Butler, Sat. 2:30 p.m.: Talk about a difference in styles. Indiana wants run and gun and fire threes and play as fast as possible. Butler wants to muck things up as much as they can. This is a very, very important game for the Hoosiers, who haven’t done much in the non-conference.
  • St. Mary’s at No. 24 St. John’s, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: The Gaels looked really good going into Creighton and knocking off the Bluejays. They didn’t when they lost to Northern Arizona at home. I’m not convinced the Johnnies are all that good yet, but if they are, this is the kind of game that they win.
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WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 3 Arizona at UTEP, Fri. 11:00 p.m.

UTEP is good. I’m not saying this just to hype them up or to make this game sound more intriguing than it is. The Miners are good enough that they will compete with Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion for the Conference USA title this season. Vince Hunter is a legitimate NBA prospect, and when combined with Julian Washburn and Cedrick Lang, it gives Tim Floyd a front line with the size to hang with Arizona, at least on paper. And that’s before you consider the Tim Floyd effect.

Arizona is very, very good, but they’re playing on the road late on a Friday night against a team that’s sneaky-talented. These are the kinds of games when good teams can get picked off.

UPSET WATCH

  • No. 4 Louisville at Western Kentucky, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Louisville did not look all that impressive against UNC-Wilmington. Western Kentucky just won at Ole Miss. Montrezl Harrell yelled in the press conference about his teammates being selfish.
  • N.C. State vs. No. 22 West Virginia, Sat. 9:30 p.m.: The Wolfpack are better than West Virginia this season, but the Mountaineers are pressing all-out this season. How will Cat Barber handle it?
  • Eastern Washington at Cal, Fri. 10:00 p.m.: Ty Wallace is one of the nation’s most underrated players, but Eastern Washington is a talented mid-major team that could win a game in the NCAA tournament.
  • No. 14 Utah at UNLV, Sat. 11:30 p.m.: UNLV has the talent to be a top 25 team. Will they put it all together at any point this season?
  • No. 17 Maryland at Oklahoma State, Sun. 2:00 p.m.: Going on the road in non-conference play is never an easy thing to do, particularly when you’re missing your best player (Dez Wells).

FIVE STORY LINES

1. Iona at George Mason, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: A terrific matchup of mid-major programs that will be shown on NBCSN.

2a. VCU at Cincinnati, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: Both VCU and Cincinnati really, really need to start amassing non-conference wins thanks to the how poorly their leagues have done this year. The only two teams that may need wins more this weekend than these two teams are …

2b. SMU at Michigan, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: … SMU has struggled this season in the absence of Markus Kennedy. And Michigan? They lost to NJIT and Eastern Michigan before getting blown out by Arizona.

3. Purdue vs. No. 21 Notre Dame, Sat. 5:15 p.m.: Notre Dame is putting up ridiculous numbers offensively, but they’re doing it against an atrocious, embarrassing schedule. Purdue is a borderline tournament team at best, but they’ll guard and they have a ton of size. How real are the Irish? We’ll find out.

4. No. 13 Iowa State at Drake, Sat. 5:00 p.m. and Iowa at Northern Iowa, Sat. 7:30 p.m.: The four in-state teams play on Saturday, although I wish they would let us see Northern Iowa play Iowa State. Is it too late to change that?

5. Missouri at Illinois, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: The Braggin’ Rights Game.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.